by Maria L. Evans
“An isolated system, if not already in its state of thermodynamic equilibrium, spontaneously evolves towards it. Thermodynamic equilibrium has the greatest entropy amongst the states accessible to the system. Perpetual motion machines of the second kind are thus impossible.”
–Second Law of Thermodynamics
As everyone saw from my previous post, we’re exploring the possibility that the Laws of Thermodynamics can be an apt parable for the church. Here’s the lay version of the Second Law: “Everything gets more random.”
That notion of “randomness” has both personal and communal implications. I always figure that at a personal level, death is about as random as we all get. We become the dust of the cosmos physically, and whatever that thing called our soul is, it is delivered back to God. At a community level, it means we have to both love our most put together moments–those moments when we are touched by a perfect liturgical experience, a hymn sung right at the time we need it, a ministry that opens the door to a wonderful or touching surprise–and simultaneously grieve its fleeting, ephemeral nature. As mysteriously beautiful as they are, they don’t last as is. They only last as a collective of all the similar moments we never saw ourselves, and all those yet to be.
I’m afraid we don’t understand the power of our own journey to randomness as well as we understand the pain of it. We tend to understand it in our bad behavior and the bad behavior of others. For instance, an old saw that gets bantered around in recovery circles is that on average, one alcoholic intimately affects the lives of eight other people. Those eight people affect eight other people, those eight…well, you see where I’m going with this. One person’s pain and suffering that was transformed into heat instead of work spreads into this random pall of pain…and the world is full of layers upon layers of sheets of pain. It’s how I understand what composes our broken world.
If we flip it around, though, look what we get when we believe in the story of the ultimate positive transference of God’s energy through the work of Jesus. Suffering and death, transformed into resurrection and ascension, affected his apostles, his mother, and Mary Magdalene for sure, and we can assume at least a few others by name. Using the same understanding of randomness, if each of those people had only spread the Good News in Christ to eight people, it is a random display of power that can outdo all the pain and suffering in the world multiple times over…and we know several of them spread that news to considerably more than eight people each.
The power of the random state created by Christ, spread through us, can’t be measured with the classic yardsticks of church growth and development. You can’t put a value like an average Sunday attendance on this. It requires a leap of faith–letting go of what’s “ours.” As much as we like to attribute a good work to something we did, we are instead invited to trust that the collective of good works is capable of bearing their own fruit. Our baptismal covenant calls to us to do something that is impossible for each of us to do as individuals to the level we can do it as a group, and to let that groundswell of collective random goodness be the thing that moves people’s hearts to long for a piece of that action through belonging to an institutional church.
Despite news reports that claim Christianity is dying, I don’t totally buy it. Oh, I think Christianity connected to empire is certainly dying. But so much of what I read from researchers such as Elizabeth Dreschler tell me that there is a huge layer of the religious “nones” out there–believers, too be sure–but unchurched and with no reason to see worth joining one. The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics says it right at the end–there’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine. We had no reason to expect institutional churches as we know them could generate this energy forever in the direction they did. Could it be that we are simply moving to a new state of spiritual equilibrium–one that embraces the randomness? One that creates greater accessibility to the system?
When have you observed the power of the “randomness” generated by the Gospel?
Part 1 is here.
Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid